by Jeff Poulis
Jeff Poulis is an audiophile who works in the film business as a “Prop Master”, a friend of both Aaron and I, as well as of AIG bookkeeper Susan Cooper. Not too long ago, Jeff showed a casual interest in writing about audio components, something I encouraged. This review is the first result of that encouragement, and, I hope, not the last effort of his writing career, so I heartily welcome Jeff to our pages. (AM)
Anthem MRX 700 A/V Receiver
Sugg. Retail: $2199.99 www.anthemelectronics.com
The opportunity to review a product for Audio Ideas Guide came about quite unexpectedly. I was flattered to be asked, and being a lifelong audio enthusiast (and home theatre nut), I jumped at the chance. And then I found out what I was to review: the Anthem MRX 700 A/V receiver. Damn, an A/V receiver! Don’t get me wrong – I love receivers – it’s just that my reference system is comprised of separates: an A/V processor feeding amplifiers around the room and balanced connections to boot. So installing the Anthem and pressing “play” was not going to happen quickly.
So I did what any audiophile would do. I built a system for it. Well, I make it sound more dramatic than it really was. My reference system occupies the basement man cave, and my main floor living room has a very accommodating system for casual TV watching and music, albeit in 2 channel. This was where the MRX 700 was going to work!
Before I delve into the installation, a little more info about the MRX 700. It is the top-of-the-line A/V receiver from Anthem, and sports a polite and tidy front panel with a brushed black face. All the basic buttons are present to navigate, but, as with most A/V products you need your trusty flat screen TV to set everything up. A nifty thin sliding door reveals easy front access for a USB input, headphone jack, and RCA audio/video jacks.
The rear panel has all the necessary connections of the current input/output era, and will be more then adequate for most installations. Inside, the amplifier section belts out 120W per channel in 2 channel mode and 90W per channel when driving 5 or more channels (up to 7.1). Unless you have large inefficient speakers this should be more than enough to handle most home theatre rigs. All the latest sound formats are supported as well as Anthem’s own Logic, Music and Cinema modes. Also included is a decent back-lit remote control and a secondary smaller Zone 2 remote. A dedicated ipod dock, the MDX 1, is coming soon to allow on-screen navigation of iTunes. (Yay!)
Another feature of the MRX 700 is Anthem Room Correction (ARC), an extremely sophisticated system for precisely setting up your speakers to your room. The “kit” which accompanies the receiver is packed in its own box and includes a microphone, cables, software disc, manual and the coolest ‘Mini-Me”-sized articulating mic stand. It’s so versatile owners will be using it long after its initial function (cameras and binoculars come to mind). In order to make this all work, though, you need a computer. Ouch. I am used to the Audyssey Room Correction in my reference room via my Marantz AV 8003, which does all its work “in house” requiring the user to simply plug its mic into the front panel and press “go”.
The rest of the newborn system was the following: Sources were a Sony BDP-S550 Blu-ray player fed to the Anthem via HDMI, an iPod sampling AIFF 48 kHz music files connected to the analog inputs, and an Apple Airport Express to stream whatever I fancied from the downstairs music library. The front 3 speakers were all connected with Kimber 8PR cables and the 2 rears with 4PR, all using gold banana plugs. The Bag End was attached with a basic Audioquest subwoofer cable. My Panasonic 37” LCD TV handled the viewing. So back to music with the Totems. One of my favourite go-to tracks is “This Is Helena” from OMD’s 1983 album Dazzle Ships (2008 remastered CDVR 2261), which is an aggressive punchy tune with tight, driving drums and a haunting transient synthesizer that is jaw-dropping. Played with a great music system, this song is all-immersing, exhausting and wonderful. With lesser equipment it can be unpleasant and annoying. I am happy to say that the MRX 700 delivered it very well, with only the slightest trace of brightness in the upper frequencies. It was musical. From here I went to Holly Cole’s “Little Boy Blue” from Temptation (CD Z2-81026) and was equally impressed with the warmth of her voice and the full-bodied sound of the group.
All the other music tracks that I tried were presented as I would have hoped: Carole King and James Taylor singing “ You’ve Got A Friend” from the newly released The Carnegie Hall Concert (MoFi UDSACD 2067), Dead Can Dance’s awesome “Song Of The Stars” from Spiritchaser (MoFi SACD 2713 CD), and a plethora of other favourites that were delivered with great realism. If you want an A/V receiver that will let you enjoy your music library, the MRX 700 is more than capable. As for the FM tuner, it was spot on, bringing in my local stations from the Toronto area. Jazz FM 91.1 was terrific, as was CBC FM 94.1.
On to the multi-channel fun. I already knew the unit was going to do fine. The music presentation is always the seller for me. What remained to be tested was how the Anthem processed lossless hi-res soundtracks of the DTS and Dolby Digital nature. And I allowed the onslaught to begin with Terminator 2 - Judgement Day. And why not? For a 20-year old movie it still releases hell on earth with jaw-dropping dynamics. The MRX 700 handed it out in spades and punched the daylights out of my new home theater. Well done!
Other test subjects included Shrek 2, and the opening sequence of X-Men 2, which features outstanding ghostly sound pans from the NightCrawler teleport jumps. Let’s face it, Hi-Def Blu-ray movies & soundtracks are where you want the goods delivered, and the MRX 700 will not disappoint. As for picture quality, the HDMI is as transparent as you would expect in a well designed unit and your Blu-ray library will make its way to your flat-screen as faithfully as your source can supply. No worries here.
Now I was ready to run the “extremely sophisticated” Anthem ARC system. Well, I have to admit defeat here. I am sorry. Having to use a computer to set-up a home A/V product just doesn’t jibe with me. Even after tech support coaching and much hair-pulling, the program simply failed to work - for a number of reasons that would fill another page. Granted, I am not a computer genius, and for those of you that are, I am sure you will “geek” out over the whole process. Truth be told, if you are a like-minded audiophile, you are most likely positioning your speakers where they sound and perform the best in your room, so room correction is not as critical. If you are doing in-wall speaker installations then I can see the ARC system being a very useful tool. For those who purchase the unit, your dealer will be involved, so you do not worry about being stranded with its setup.
On the whole, I can tell you that the Anthem MRX 700 is a first rate machine. Yes, it has its quirks, but any A/V receiver comes with a learning curve and once you get everything dialed in, you won’t be disappointed. At price tag of just over 2 grand, it has a lot of competition, but having heard and seen what it can do, I could live with it and be very satisfied. Check it out.
With such a complex component as the Anthem MRX 700, there are features that Jeff couldn’t address (and probably also didn’t need), so I thought I’d quickly run through them here. The first is the claim that the MRX 700 is “3D Ready”. I called Anthem’s Piero Ferrari to clarify this, and he noted that this means that the receiver will pass 3D video signals accurately through its electronics, so buyers needn’t fear obsolescence if the format really catches on (read my analysis of the 3D phenomenon elsewhere).
It is also worth noting that the MRX 700 converts composite and component video to HDMI, at the same time up-scaling it to 1080p. Additional surround formats include Dolby True HD and Digital Plus, DTS Master HD and ES, all at 96/24 resolution, as well as Dolby Headphone surround. For videophiles with several advanced source components (and hopes for more), the receiver has 4 HDMI inputs, along with its 3 component and 4 composite video inputs. Digital audio is served with 2 coaxial and 3 optical inputs. These are in addition to the 7 stereo analog inputs. Finally, there are a pair of USB inputs, and RS-232, IR and trigger capabilities. Hopefully, that makes the MRX 700 about as future-proof as any buyer might need going down the road of audio/video technology.
Jeff’s problems with ARC (Auto Room Correction) seemed to stem from the interface with his MAC computer needing “parallels that mimic Windows”, and a program called Boot Camp, perhaps, that is now part of the most recent MAC computer packages, all this information from Piero in our phone conversation. My own approach to room correction is to treat the room rather than the electronic signal, but it’s a nice feature to have available, preferably with a dealer who will actually come to your room to tweak your Anthem ARC. And I understand that this is a requirement for all Anthem/Paradigm dealers.
With the permission of Paradigm/Anthem , I sold the MRX 700 to a friend and colleague in the York Pioneer & Historical Society, Ken Carter, who had some fun with the ARC system. Here’s his running commentary:
“I used a desktop computer running Windows 7 that has serial ports, but I thought I would try using the USB adapter as a test.
Tripp-Lite Keyspan USA-19HS USB Serial Adapter: -Ensure that you install the hardware driver using the provided CD (or a new downloaded version) before connecting the adapter to the computer.
-after installation of the driver and connection to the computer, check the COM port settings for conflicts
-click on the START button (bottom left corner); -click on CONTROL PANEL; -click on the SYSTEM icon; -click on DEVICE MANAGER
-looking at the list, click on PORTS (COM& LPT); -my Keyspan USB adapter came up as COM3 and I already had a COM3 (you can only have 1 of each device (only 1 COM1, only 1 COM2, etc.), so I disabled all the other COM ports except for the Keyspan adapter by right-clicking on each device on the list and selecting disable.
-this resolved the communication error I was receiving try to locate the Anthem processor.
-if you double click on the Keyspan device and then the Port Settings tab, you can change the “Bits per Second” to match the Anthem settings under Setup (I went with the fastest setting, 115,200)
-under the Advanced button, you can also change the COM# if necessary. The ARC software ran well and uploaded to the receiver fine and was very easy to use. I used a 25′ 9 pin “straight thru” serial cable with a BD9 female connector at one end and a DB9 male connector at the other end to reach my desktop computer. I did not use any other USB cable to extend the Keystone adapter as USB has issues with long cables.
If still having communication issues, one could try disconnecting all other USB devices except for keyboard, mouse and the Anthem microphone.”
“I downloaded the latest firmware update for this unit. Take a look at item 4. I’m not sure, but perhaps this will fix your Mac communication issue. (Handshake is a serial communications term):
v50.19 main update:
1. Sudden loss or corruption of audio issue resolved.
2. Subwoofer level in manual level calibration menu fixed.
3. A certain US satellite receiver can have an issue when playing 3D while connected through an AVR (any brand). Although the satellite publicly acknowledged that it is their issue, we made a change for MRX which may help regardless.
4. Handshake issue with Mac Mini DVI source - fixed.
5. Fixed issue where surround-side and surround-back levels were swapped contrary to corresponding values displayed in setup menu.”
Ken Carter, November 23d, 2011
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